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Richard R. (Bob) Cozens


During the late 1950s I worked for Adastra two, or was it three times, alternating with two spells at Butler Air Transport. The precise chronology of those years is now very hazy but I remember that I had an interview for a job as field engineer with Eric Haynes at Hangar 15 and jumped over a fence and walked over green grass to get there. This would be about where the Qantas check-in desks are now. The Catalina was in the Hangar which puts the time at the end of 1956.

I first flew with Joe and Josie Linfoot, Bob Wilson as navigator and Harold Corrigan to Canberra. We stayed at Queanbeyan and the road to the airport was still dirt and we carried a foldup motor scooter for me to use to be independent of the aircrew. Not the best vehicle for the dirt road. We were there only a short time as Bob was leaving to fly helicopters in New Guinea, some of the first in this part of the world and a short time later, a couple of years or so, he was the boss. Those pilots and engineers who got in early on choppers did very well for themselves.

Another trip with Joe Linfoot and Graham Holstock as navigator was to Cairns and Horn Island and Port Moresby. On the way up we picked up a friend of Joe's who bought a Holden FJ and used it for transport for the crew for five weeks, drove it back to Tamworth and sold it, the proceeds of which paid for his holiday. Thems was the days!! While there we overnighted at Mitchell River Mission and camped in bamboo huts by a billabong with an alleged crocodile inhabitant. While there, the Aborigines put on a bit of a corroboree for us and the picture of the kids near the Hudson must have been taken there. We also overnighted at Wrotham Park Station homestead which, if my failing memory serves me right, was owned by Sir Lawrence Wackett who had three daughters, one of whom was married to an Ansett captain and the youngest who was paralysed down one side and had just returned from a two week picnic along the Mitchell River in a three ton truck which she had driven all the way!

At Horn Island there was no accommodation so we stayed at a pub on Thursday Island and traveled to Horn by ferry every flying day. Notable at Thursday Island was the old fort on top of the hill behind the hospital, built to repel the Russians in the 1800s with three cannon still there, the pearling luggers and watching the locals spear garfish from the wharf at night. I couldn't see any fish but they could!

On to Port Moresby where we stayed at the Boroka Hotel, on the way to the airport at Jackson's Field. Qantas had a nose hangar for their DC-4 daily service and the local charter company used Ansons to ferry building materials and everything else around the country. The story was that they only managed to get airborne because of the curvature of the earth and you could almost believe this was true. Jackson's had not changed much since the war and neither had Moresby. Grass skirts were very much in evidence and the Ela beach market was an exotic scene and smell!

Qantas was still using Catalinas here and I think at the time the Hudsons were the fastest civil aircraft in service in Australia or the second fastest. I left the crew here to go to England for a few months where my mother was very ill. When I returned a few months later, I joined Adastra again and went to Canberra with a Hudson, don't know which one, with Neil McInnes as pilot and Maurie O'Donnell as camera operator and maybe Hal McKinley navigating, not sure of that. Neil had been crop dusting, and still was a cropduster at heart. What was he doing flying at 25,000ft? I was told he was inclined to get down low after photography and look for brigalow scrub to cropdust! Maurie had been an ambulance driver and I think was trying to get some money to get married to his girl friend "Blossom". He was known for his laconic descriptions of horrific accidents he had attended and was sometimes known as "Dr Death". We were only there about three weeks before recall to Sydney.

The next trip I remember was to North Queensland and Port Moresby with a Hudson piloted by Jack Howard and I think Elmo Phipps as camera operator. Somewhere along the line Jack had his wife and kids along staying in a friend's house. Jack was always looking for something to do when he had no Adastra business so he volunteered to do our laundry. Thanks Jack! It all came back washed and neatly ironed. In Lae we stayed at the Mandated Airlines mess and had good rapport with them. Dick Glassey was flying for them, a previous Adastra pilot, and I remember you could always tell when he went past the mess as his jeep had a distinctive rattle in the gearbox. Jack, in his usual way, volunteered to cut the chief pilot's lawn one day. Early in the morning, the chief pilot's neigbour was surprised to see Jack striding up and down his lawn mowing and wasn't about to stop him. When Jack was told of his mistake he went and mowed the correct lawn. We had employed a local to clean the aircraft for us and given him a tin of polish and a quick demo of how to put the polish on. Nobody had thought to demo rubbing the polish off, so he left it on! He had faithfully followed the instructions given him!

My last trip with Hudsons was to Lae for about five and a half months with Allan Motteram, Pat Murphy and Gordon Murrell. Allan had brought his wife and two youngest children along and I remember that flying from Moresby to Lae we had to climb to 15,000 feet over the Owen Stanley Mountains. The kids were quite lively and active till we got over 10,000 feet when they were sitting very still and breathless. The little girl needed a whiff of oxygen as she was the most affected, but as we descended they got livelier and livelier till we landed. Alan and Desiree had the use of a house and Pat, Gordon and I lived at the MAL mess. With the usual New Guinea weather, there were hardly any days suitable to even try photography, so not much flying was done, sometimes just a circuit or two to exercise the pilot and aircraft. One day Allan decided to check the stall characteristics of the aircraft and I was with them. The stall when it comes is very sharp and vicious and one wing will drop quickly loosing quite a bit of altitude. With not much work to do, I built model aircraft and bought a motorbike to play with. One day Pat borrowed a VW combi van and drove us up to Wau and Goroka on the new road that had just opened. Up until then you had to go by air or walk. The last of, I think, five gold dredges was still operating at the end of about 25 miles of mullock heaps which had ruined the river valley. Wau airstrip is steeply uphill and you can only land up hill and take off down hill, no chance of a go-around. DC-3's had to maintain 30 inches manifold pressure to get to the terminal at the top after landing, and turn 90 degrees across the hill to park. On the way back, we saw a native boy paddling down the rough water of the river on a raft made of banana logs, happily paddling along as the raft disintegrated under him!

That trip came to an untimely end with the tragic crash of the aircraft at Lae. With only one engine operating and caught in the turbulence over the end of the strip, they had no hope of recovery. I am told that the daily DC-4 that landed soon after had to maintain 30 inches manifold pressure on all four engines on approach to make it on to the strip that morning. In the five and a half months we were there I think only one flight produced photographs and they were no good, so that trip was expensive for Adastra, losing a crew and aircraft and nothing to show for it.

No more Hudsons for me after that so I took over Alan Cattanach's place on the Catalina and my first trip was to Tassie with Bob Love and Bruce Sellick(?), Joe Tidey navigating and with Maurie Miller, Les Snape and Ted Roberts technicians, based at Cambridge Airport Hobart. Bob's description of flying the Cat was "90% boredom and 10% terror". I went on a flight one day when we were redoing a small area up and down a hillside. The Cat needed full power to get to the top and then turn and slide down hill at reduced power to maintain a constant height above terrain. I was drafted to write frame numbers on the trace and because it was rough I could hardly keep the pen on the paper and felt very sick but managed to keep it till we had finished, then made a dash for the bucket! The only time I have been actually air or sea sick.

After that trip we went (I think with Ken Rowlands) to Cobar, which was almost a ghost town at the time but sometime after our survey the mine was reopened for a few more years. There were two schools of thought among the locals who came out to the airfield to see us land. One thought we had been blown off course from the coast and the other was that we were going to land on a local dam or lake. I think it was there we had to refuel from drums.

Next trip was to Queensland with Ken Rowlands and Bruce Sellick, Kevin Pavlich navigator and an American technician John Smunk, Maurie (Miller) and Les (Snape). St George was as hot as any place I had been to and after dinner in the evenings we would sit on the veranda and watch the fruit bats fly off along the river to their nightly feast. A continuous stream of them for about 20 minutes. This trip I started to learn chess at which John was a master, preferring to get to the end game as soon as possible and then wipe you off the board with ease. I don't think I won a game for six months.

We spent some time at Roma, Charleville and Longreach after that. At Roma we set up the ground magnetometer in a vineyard where the power supply was reasonably constant. The Sherry they made there had a distinctive almond flavour and later I was able to buy some in Sydney. At Charleville we had to get out to fly about dawn because of turbulence and very often the Cat would return before 7 o'clock, too early for breakfast, so we would play a few holes of golf at the local course first. I'm left-handed and had to play with right-handed clubs which made me concentrate more, so I had good direction but not much length to my strokes. You could lose your ball on the fairway as the weeds and grass were over two inches high. One day, a church about 100 yards away on the other side of the street from the hotel caught fire and burnt to the ground in about an hour. The heat was so intense we could feel it on the veranda of the hotel.

At Longreach we stayed in a cheap hotel which was about to be renovated or pulled down so there was only one threadbare blanket for each bed and it was COLD at night so we had to spread all our clothes on the bed to keep warm. By midday the temperature was close to 40 degrees Celsius. In those days the only tourist attractions were the 150ft high water tower and shops in the main street, all selling everything from pins to an elephant, so to speak.

On the way back to Sydney we had to redo a few bits of earlier surveys flying 6 hours a day and overnighting at Borroloola which consisted of a hotel, a "café" and a couple or so houses. The airport was a dirt strip with a windsock set in a circle of stones. Sand, stones and salt bush as far as the eye could see. From the air, Western Queensland was patches of different colour brown, some with a greenish tinge, ideal for navigation - not!

My last trip was to Cairns and Horn Island with the DC-3 with a bird in tow and mapping the reef I think, with Jack Howard, Bruce and Pat Gregory, and Les Snape as I remember. We overnighted, or was it a weekend, at Mackay in company with a Hudson and Anson, one of the rare, if not only times, three Adastra aircraft were at the same place in the field at the same time. Must have been a party for sure but the only thing that sticks in my memory is that Wally challenged me to a game of chess, saying he had only just started playing and I had been playing, and losing, for six months. He beat me in five moves with "Fools Check" which I had never heard of. How mortifying!!

In Cairns, Jack had terrible trouble with head aches while flying and some times had to hand over to Bruce to land, which Jack liked to do himself. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with all sorts of tests including Cat scans so Jack tried a Chiropractor on someone's advice and after three or so visits he had no more trouble. One night we went down town to have a look at the new model Ford car just coming on the market - the "Falcon". Remember them?

On previous visits to Horn Island, crews had mainly stayed at Thursday Island but this time we stayed on Horn. Bruce and Pat with the groundsman at his house and the rest in the passenger lounge. I mentally marked out a tree on the side of the runway suitable for a block and tackle in case we had to change an engine. This tree had been used before as there was evidence, old Junkers engines, around the bottom of it, so it must have been suitable.

We got a message from Jack Mac to try and salvage the aileron balance weights from the wreck of AGO so we all went down to the beach and to get to the wreck we had to cross the mouth of a little creek. Pat stayed at the creek and, I think, Les to do some fishing. On the way back we were shown the fishing catch from the other side of the creek, a small shark about two feet long and another fearsome looking one about the same size. We all just about ran on water to get back over the creek!! If there were little ones there, maybe there were big ones!

The locals living on Horn used to fish for dinner using 100 pound line, no sportfishing here, we want to eat! They also used spears with fencing wire tips, about six to a spear and would get three or four fish at a time from the swarms of pilchards near the jetty. I have seen a shark swim on the surface through the jetty piles after pilchards too. Occasionally you could see crocs on the beach in the distance, unless they were logs that moved.

It rained for a couple of days and the bare stony ground was soon green with weeds and there were little black mosquitoes that used to get inside the mosquito nets we slept under, there would be a couple of dozen of them with you in the morning. Jack, being Jack, had to be doing something when not flying so started making oil draining buckets by cutting four gallon drums in half, cutting and bending the cut edge to make it neat and fitting a handle of No. 8 fencing wire. He made lots and gave them to all and sundry. I had one for years after in my garage.

By this time I was married and wanting to start a family, so left Adastra and started work at Bankstown on light aircraft. Whoever coined the phrase "the romance of aviation" must have had companies like Adastra in mind.


Bob Cozens
September 2003